On May 25, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill (HB 1) mandating five days of paid family sick leave for workers at businesses with 15 or more employees. The veto was harshly criticized by Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on social activism. The bill would be a “clear victory for families and businesses alike,” the organization said in a public statement.
“We’ve been waging this campaign for years,” said JUFJ Montgomery County Organizer Laura Wallace. “Meanwhile, hard-working people lose income or even their jobs simply because they become ill or experience domestic violence. A healthy workforce is a strong workforce, which is why so many small businesses support HB 1.”
The legislature will have a chance to override the governor’s veto once it convenes in January for the 2018 legislative session. In a press release, Governor Hogan called HB 1 a “deeply flawed, job-killing” bill and urged legislators to consider his own paid sick leave proposal as a starting point for a compromise bill.
Several attempts have been made to pass a paid sick leave law in Maryland since 2013, but HB 1 was the first to reach the governor’s desk. The law would require all employers with 15 or more employees to offer one day of paid sick leave for every thirty days worked — up to five days per year. Employers with fewer than 15 employees would be required to offer an equivalent amount of unpaid sick leave.
Under the law, employees could use their paid sick leave to care for sick family members as well as themselves. According to Jews United for Justice Baltimore Director Molly Amster, this is crucial because many working parents can neither miss work nor hire a babysitter to care for their sick children. As a result, when a child gets sick they “end up in an impossible situation.”
According to an analysis by the Maryland General Assembly Department of Legislative Services, 64 percent of Maryland workers currently receive paid sick leave from their jobs; HB 1 would allow an additional 31 percent of Maryland workers (677,276 employees) to receive paid sick leave. Looking at these numbers, the proposed law is comparable to existing paid sick leave laws in states such as Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon.
Maryland workers in low-wage industries such as retail, food service, and hospitality have the most to gain from a paid sick leave law, according to the General Assembly’s report. Workers in Montgomery County would be unaffected by the law, however, because the county already requires businesses with five or more employees to offer up to seven days of paid sick leave per year. Jews United for Justice and several synagogues actively advocated for the county-level law, which was passed in June 2015 after a similar state-wide law stalled in the Maryland legislature.
In his HB 1 veto letter, Governor Hogan cited the law’s negative impact on small businesses, ambiguous language, and needless complexity as his reasons for vetoing the bill. According to the Department of Legislative Services’ analysis, the law would increase costs for small businesses, but these costs would be partially offset by reduced sickness and turnover among staff.
Governor Hogan urged legislators to work with him on a compromise, saying that he viewed his veto as “just the beginning” of the discussion on paid sick leave. Under the governor’s own proposal from December 2016, only businesses with 50 or more employees would be required to offer paid sick leave; smaller businesses would not be required to offer paid sick leave, but they would receive tax benefits for doing so. On the same day of his veto, Governor Hogan passed executive orders to give preference in state contracts to companies that offer paid sick leave and to create a working group to study paid sick leave in Maryland and propose improvements to the bill by December 2017.
Given that HB 1 passed both the House of Delegates and Senate with a veto-proof majority, it seems unlikely that legislators will need to work with the governor on a compromise bill. Assuming no legislators defect, the bill barely passed with a veto-proof majority in the Senate; the legislature can simply override the governor’s veto when they next meet in January 2018.
However, said Wallace, Maryland families harmed by the governor’s veto should not need to wait that long.
“We’re proud of Montgomery County’s earned sick leave program, but basic worker protections should be a right, not a privilege based on where you live,” said Wallace.
“Many working parents end up in an impossible situation if their child becomes ill,” added Molly Amster, JUFJ’s Baltimore Director. “They can either send their sick kid to school, or take time off of work to care for them. Many poor and working families have no alternative access to care — they can’t just call a babysitter. Many of them also simply cannot miss a day of work. Nobody should lose their job because they or their loved ones get sick.”
By Gabe Aaronson